6 Popular Monsters Myths (That Prove Humanity Is Doomed)

#3. Ghosts

Please note that this article is not resolving the question of life after death, but specifically the idea that after death you come back and wander around your house or cemetery as a translucent version of yourself.

Been Around Since...

Now here's a phenomenon even more universal than the zombie or the vampire. Dig into folklore from ancient China, ancient Europe, ancient Egypt, ancient anywhere, and you find ghosts. Humans have believed in ghosts for as long as we've had the brain power to believe anything.

For the Love of God, Why?

The whole idea of the deceased appearing as a blurry, pale form is thought to go back to cave men seeing a person's frosty breath on a cold day and thinking that was the magical stuff that kept them alive (after all, when a man dies, that pale stuff stops coming out). When the caveman sees his friend get eaten by a dinosaur, he sees the steam rise from the wounds into the cold air and thinks, "that's Ogg's soul escaping!" Then he hops into his foot-powered car, strapping himself in with a seatbelt that is also a snake.

Granted, that theory also means ancient man thought that a bowl of soup had a soul, as well as dog turds. But remember it was the tradition at the time to not believe anything unless it was completely retarded.

Thankfully that tradition has passed.

Also, people back then weren't so good at telling the difference between dreams and reality, so a dream about the recently deceased was considered a visit.

But weirdest of all, solidifying the concept was the baffling phenomenon of out-of-body experiences, which scientists have now figured out is due to a malfunction of a part of the brain called the temporoparietal junction. It's responsible for gathering sensory data and using it to create a general sense of how your body is positioned, so you're not always banging your head on things.

But when it misfires, it can mistakenly think your body is, say, across the room from your mind. In experiments scientists have manipulated that part of the brain to make a guy think he was three feet away from his own body.

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

Of course these beliefs have been happily assisted by countless mediums and psychics and John Edward types who will "contact" your loved ones and tell you everything you want to hear. For a fee.

But even they are really just playing off the fact that grief makes us selfish; we assume that if our loved ones exist as ghosts, they're surely still hanging around the house waiting to hear from us, rather than, say, up in Heaven playing dodge ball with Teddy Roosevelt.

#2. Werewolves

Werewolves are the next vampires. They star in the Twilight sequel, and there's another huge werewolf movie coming soon thereafter (The Wolfman). So get ready to be fucking sick of werewolves.

Too late.

Been Around Since...

We have freaking cave drawings from 14,000 years ago depicting humans with animal features, or transforming into animals. So, yeah.

For the Love of God, Why?

We'd assume that this one came about when our caveman saw his friend Ogg walk behind a boulder and then saw a wolf come trotting out the other side. Said caveman runs back home and says, "Wilma! I totally saw Ogg transform into a wolf! Ogg is a wolf now! How awesome is that?"

Then Ogg comes ambling up saying, "Why did you leave me back there? I was taking a shit." The tribe thus comes to the natural conclusion that Ogg can transform into a wolf and then turn back.

That's just a guess, of course. What we do know is that the animal the supposed werewolf transforms into differs according to whatever is the most dangerous predator in the region--in Europe, wolf attacks used to be common so they have werewolves. But in Central America they have were-jaguars, in central Asia, were-bears. Which leads us right to...

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

Here we are again, taking a natural phenomenon (wolf attacks) and crazily deciding the hairiest guy in the village must somehow be their ringleader. And yes, accused "werewolves" were put on trial and killed in Europe the same as witches and vampires (by the way, the "transforming at the full moon" part was added in the middle ages or earlier, at a time when it was thought that a full moon in general brought out the crazy in people).

Ozzy never fooled anyone with that moon business.

It didn't help that there is a mental illness that causes people to think they're animals. Strangely, it seems to involve the same misfire in the brain that creates the out-of-body experience; the brain convinces the person that they have a body similar to an animal in shape, and the imagination does the rest. And when I say "the rest" I mean they have been caught eating people.

You'll also notice that the "what if we're all just animals after all?" principle is at play once again, but it takes the "wouldn't it be sort of awesome, though?" idea even further than the vampire. As a werewolf you have none of the disadvantages of the vampire, no allergy to sunlight or garlic or crosses. Just once a month, you become a total badass who can hunt down and tear the throat out of even the strongest man.

So while people back then feared getting killed by a werewolf, you have to wonder how much they actually feared turning into one.

Let's ask the furries.

#1. Aliens

Specifically, we're talking about the "abduct you in the middle of the night and give you an anal probe" aliens. These days they're almost always short, with gray skin and huge black eyes.

Been Around Since...

They've always been around, we just used to call them something else. And the anal probing part isn't new, either. If you're wondering how legends survive over thousands of years, look no further.

If you're a regular reader you already know about Popobawa, a mythical demon in Tanzania who, you guessed it, sneaks into the home of victims at night and rapes them in the ass.

And he won't even lube up first.

Demon abduction/rape stories go way back and as Carl Sagan pointed out in The Demon Haunted World, the details were identical to what we're calling alien abduction stories now--the demons even were often said to be able to fly, or live in the sky. In German folklore you had the alp, a creature who would enter your room at night, sit on your chest, try to coerce you into sex and, sometimes, drink milk from the nipples of men (wait, what?). But even that is just a variation of the incubus, a demon or spirit who supposedly drifted into your home at night and slipped you some demon boner in your sleep. That's a character that goes back at least 4,500 years.

For the Love of God, Why?

You can thank a combination of sleep paralysis and a long tradition of being really uptight about sex.

Primitive people used to think sleep paralysis (when you sort of wake up but sort of don't, and can't move your limbs) was the result of the evil spirit or demon holding them down (often depicted as a demon sitting on the chest) and you can certainly see why. Sleep paralysis can trigger all sorts of random sensory data in the brain, from sounds to hallucinations of someone else in the room to, yes, sexual arousal.

So why do abductees these days describe the aliens as "greys"--guys with huge heads and huge black eyes? That description goes back to the late 19th century at least and some believe it's hard-wired into the brain. Infants are apparently born with a crude idea of what eyes look like; show a newborn a piece of paper with two huge black eyes on it, and it will look right into it as if it was a person.*

When your brain is in that half-asleep state and is trying to paste a face onto the being it thinks is there, it pulls from that same crude, innate template. Just two big dark eyes, with the rest of the face an afterthought.

*babies are stupid.

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

You might not have noticed this, but traditionally our society gets kind of weird when it comes to sex, and especially what it views as deviant sex acts. It's bad now but it used to be much worse, so it's no surprise a society terrified of deviant sex would have nightmares about it. Then, those demons made for great cover stories for women who got pregnant or lost their virginity out of wedlock, and for men who perhaps were overheard having enthusiastic anal sex from the next room. Damn that gay rape demon!

But here's the scary part:

What makes aliens different than the rest of the cheesy horror movie monsters on this list is that lots of people in the modern world still believe in them. About a third of us believe in alien abductions, a number that is growing. There is a movie coming out that's building its entire ad campaign around the assumption that alien abductions are real.

And that, friends, is why the monsters will never die. When the old monsters are disproven, we just invent new ones. I mocked the third-world countries for chasing witches, but even college-educated Americans believe in the supernatural, often more than their non-educated friends. It turns out the stuff we get taught in school just makes us better at inventing reasons to believe. As skeptic Michael Shermer put it: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

That's why we're just counting down the years until the next "witch hunt." We believe in monsters--and subconsciously think of our fellow humans as monsters--because we want to. And that may be humanity's biggest dick-move of all.

David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com and a NYT bestselling author. You probably don't know that his long-awaited new novel is out right now at Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Indiebound, iTunes, Powell's, your local bookstore, or anywhere else books are sold!

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